FAI frustration grows over political interference in how association does its business
John Foley's decision not to take up role as interim chief executive the latest setback to organistaion
Minster for Sport Shane Ross. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
The FAI is expected to lay bare the extent of its financial plight on Thursday when its accounts for 2018 are published at a press conference in Dublin.
There is a good deal of frustration within the organisation over what is seen as the political interference that led to the announcement on Monday morning that John Foley would not be taking up the position of interim chief executive.
Foley’s involvement had been seen as key to the association’s hopes of making progress on several fronts, most obviously the political one. There was some surprise when it emerged that he had opted to pass on the six-month contract after discussions during the previous few days that had also involved both Sport Ireland and the Minister for Sport Shane Ross.
The board of the FAI met for more than five hours on Monday and discussed both issues, with the clearest decision to emerge immediately afterwards the one to publish the accounts in time to allow the organisation to reconvene its agm before the end of the year, which it will now do.
There is a feeling within the board, however, that just a matter of days after Sport Ireland referred the Kosi report to An Garda Síochána, something that is seen as having delayed the appointment of the much anticipated independent directors, Ross has now dealt the organisation another blow by effectively blocking Foley’s involvement.
The last minute nature of that did seem remarkable. Foley’s imminent arrival out at Abbotstown had been known about for weeks and he had already spent several days around the association’s offices familiarising himself with the task ahead, one that was expected to include taking the first steps towards implementing a new financial plan.
Having previously identified the continued involvement of Donal Conway and fellow board member John Earley as barriers to the restoration of public funding, though, Ross clearly took exception to the decision that Noel Mooney, who it is said will not be returning after having returned to work at Uefa on Monday, was to be replaced by another person with a long history of involvement with the association.
In Foley’s case it was as a member of the National League Executive Committee, essentially the board of the League Ireland, one that was widely seen as undemocratic by the clubs who felt its structures and lack of accountability, deprived them of any say in their own futures. Foley had been appointed as an “independent” member back in 2007 and while he was widely seen as capable, even by some critics of his appointment, Ross found the previous link unacceptable.
That much was effectively confirmed in a statement issued jointly with Minister of State for Sport Brendan Griffin late in the day on Monday.
While pointedly acknowledging Foley’s “long service to Irish sport,” and “reputation for delivery” the statement made clear Ross’s position that “the most urgent priority for the FAI should be the appointment of the four independent directors. Thereafter, it is important that the Board, under the leadership of the independent Chairperson, moves quickly to fill the CEO vacancy.
“To satisfy the concerns of all stakeholders,” it continued, “the new CEO should be completely independent of any present or previous involvement with the FAI. The FAI’s reform agenda needs to be strongly led in a manner that allows normality to return to football in Ireland as quickly as possible. The restoration of government funding can only follow such reform.”
It prompted some anger out in Abbotstown where it was claimed that the association’s best efforts to make progress on pretty much all of the fronts mentioned were being frustrated by events outside of the association’s control.
There was also some exasperation expressed over the suggestion by Fergus O’Dowd, chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport, that the association should put the names of the proposed independent directors into the public domain.
The claim from within the organisation is that while these people have clearly been identified by the consultants at Amrop, hired to recruit them, their names have not actually been made known to the association itself.
Opinions are divided, meanwhile, on the core issue of Ross’s stand with regard to the likes of Conway and Earley having been involved with the old board and closely associated with John Delaney’s time in charge.
There is, on the one hand, a group of people involved at a high level who believe that both should depart well before the term of the current board is up next summer. But there are also a general resentment at the Minister’s ongoing attempt to tell the organisation how it should do its business.
The urgency involved in making peace with the political establishment is likely to be underlined on Thursday, however, when the numbers are made public. Estimates at the loss that will be declared have varied widely but liabilities of the association as stated in the accounts are certain to be revised substantially upwards and there is little doubt just how much every penny of public money is required.
After yet another difficult day, however, its restoration certainly does not feel any closer.